From here to Jakarta: Former student’s photographic world-spanning journey


Stephan Starnes

Alumnus and documentary photographer Andri Tambunan spoke to CRC photography students and shared his body of work on Nov. 7.

There was chaos on the streets as bullets flew through the air, right into the Leopold Café killing at least ten people, as the first moments of a terrorist attack began in Mumbai on Nov. 26, 2008.

Camera in hand, Andri Tambunan captured the graphic and sad nature of the attack while realizing the simple choice of finding a different watering hole changed the course of his life.

“I can honestly say cheap beer saved my life,” Tambunan said. “Because if I hadn’t left, I’d have been shot.”

It was the graphic photos of those moments, among many others, that Tambunan shared as he returned to Cosumnes River College, where his journey began, on Nov. 07.

Emigrating from Indonesia as a child with his mother, Tambunan first picked up a camera in high school. While this led him to the photo department at CRC and eventually a Bachelor’s Degree in photography from California State University of Sacramento, it wasn’t the career path he followed at that point, he said.

Tambunan said he spent almost a decade in retail, eight of those years as a Verizon Sales Rep, because it was what he felt he needed to do.

“For me that was the American Dream,” Tambunan said. “When we came here when I was 10, my mother had $500 in her pocket. I wanted to help her out.”

Feeling unfulfilled in life and seeking something more, Tambunan said he quit his job and left to travel the world. It was in that travelling that he came to India for the moment that changed his life.

Tambunan shared his recent work, “Against All Odds: The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Papua,” where he had to bribe and convince his way into Papua so that he could bring light to the epidemic sweeping through the country.

His work there was published in the New York Times, which allowed him an exhibition around the world and a self-published book. Tambunan said he was most proud of how he distributed that book through various non-governmental organizations like the United Nations, the U.S Agency for International Development and the Clinton Health Access Initiative among many others so that they could get the story out there and help effect change.

“It was actually really interesting to hear everything about his traveling and all the work he has done, all the documentary work that he is has done all over the world,” said 23-year-old photography major Lorenzo Tinoco. “It’s shocking to see how someone can be really strong to photograph all these sad stories, terrorists [and] health issues with other people. So it’s really interesting to know what is going on out there in other countries.”

Tambunan said that Burma is the next region he wants to visit for a project as music is becoming a form of rebellion in the Burman youth that is displeased and frustrated with their government.

It was this work in other countries and bringing awareness to other cultures that helped lead to the funding for Tambunan’s presentation.

The campus Cultural Competency and Equity committee, chaired by Photography Professor Kathryn Mayo, put together the funds for the presentation as well as a cash prize to award to Tambunan in order to help fund his future work, said photography Professor Patty Felkner.

“The idea with that committee is to bring forth ideas about difference, celebrate difference and they are the committee that funds a lot of the week long celebrations that happen with African-American History Month or women’s week and all that different stuff on campus,” Felkner said. “So they have funding sources that if anyone has interest in bringing speakers or doing projects on campus that involve cultural competence and celebration of diversity they can fund [it], and that is how we were able to get some money for Andri and kind of support his work.”

While cultural issues were a part of bringing Tambunan and his work to the attention of students, it was his connection to CRC and the area that was most important. While the photographer currently resides in Jakarta for it’s proximity to his chosen area of work, he hasn’t forgotten his beginnings in Sacramento.

“I think especially with Andri, he’s younger so there is a connection already in terms of he is this really young guy, students see him [and] can connect with him,” Mayo said. “He is someone that has gone to school here and has become extremely successful and is someone that when you look at his images they are extremely beautiful, they’re inspirational, they’re enlightening and we thought that it would be someone that students could connect with.”

Mayo was not alone in her thoughts about his connection to the campus and students.

“Just the idea of what can happen from South Sacramento, in a very modest upbringing,” Felkner said. “As a role model he is a person who came to the United States with very little, grew up with not a lot, yet he’s really gone places. So that was the idea, to show the connection to South Sac, to CRC.”

In a presentation that was close to two hours, Tambunan shared many images and pieces of inspirational advice including various quotes from photographers, but there was one bit of advice from Tambunan himself that stood out.

“You’re the author and this book is your life,” Tambunan said. “When I was working retail, that was just one chapter, then I’m doing another chapter, I’m doing another chapter but I’m writing my own thing. Be the author of your life, in the way that I don’t let so many other things dictate my life.”